A "lewd" photograph of a man in underwear, shot from the waist down, was sent from the Twitter account of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) on Friday night, then quickly deleted — but not before Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website posted the photo. Weiner says his Twitter account was hacked, and has hired a lawyer to explore criminal or civil action against the perpetrators of the "prank." Conservative bloggers claim Weiner sent the photo to a Washington State college student, dubbing the "strange" saga "Weinergate." What's going on with this internet soap opera? Here, a brief guide:
What are the facts surrounding the tweet?
At about 11:30 pm on May 27, in between tweets about hockey, Weiner's Twitter account posted a link to photo-hosting site yfrog. That message was aimed at 21-year-old Seattle-area student Gennette Cordova. The photo and tweet were quickly deleted. But before the photo disappeared, conservative Twitter user Dan Wolfe (@patriotusa76) apparently grabbed a copy and sent it to Breitbart's site, which posted the photo and a story about it at 12:24 am on May 28. About two hours after the photo was posted, Weiner tweeted: "Tivo shot. FB [Facebook] hacked. Is my blender gonna attack me next?" The next day he tweeted: "Touche Prof Moriarty. More Weiner Jokes for all my guests! #Hacked!"
What are conservatives alleging?
They claim that Weiner was at least flirting, and possibly having an affair, with Cordova, and meant to send the photo directly to her instead of via his public Twitter feed. Their evidence? Cordova once tweeted, "I wonder what my boyfriend @RepWeiner is up to"; she's since taken down her Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts; and Weiner deleted all his yfrog photos, not just the crotch-focused one.
What do Weiner's defenders say?
They insist that this is an obvious smear attempt by Weiner's political opponents. As evidence, they point to Wolfe's obsessive tweeting about Weiner — he's mentioned Weiner at least 287 times over several months, including in reference to Cordova — and his odd "luck" in stumbling upon the photo in the brief time it was up. Wolfe has also "harassed" Cordova ever since Weiner started following her on Twitter, she says. And some Photoshop-savvy bloggers say the photo is a forgery that was never posted to yfrog at all. Breitbart, critics also note, has a bad track record when it comes to truth and political hit jobs.
What about the people involved?
Weiner told CNN that "this is a prank and not a terribly creative one." Cordova says "there have never been any inappropriate exchanges between Anthony Weiner and myself," that she has never met Weiner, "though I am a fan," and has never been to New York City or Washington, D.C. She took herself offline after bloggers "plastered" her name and personal info all over the web, and "harassed" her and her family members. Wolfe says he "had nothing at all to do with the picture being posted on the @RepWeiner account."
Have any nonpartisan "experts" weighed in?
Photoshop pro Philip Bump says a close examination of the photo shows that it wasn't taken with Weiner's BlackBerry, like the rest of his Twitter photos, but also was likely posted at some point to his yfrog account. This, he suggests, backs up what both Weiner and Breitbart have said publicly.
What happens next?
To some extent, that's up to Weiner. "The weiner gags never get old, I guess," he says, and bloggers will continue to debate the congressman's involvement, or lack thereof, in what Mediaite's Colby Hall calls "one of the strangest" weekends in Twitter history. Alana Goodman at Commentary says Weiner "needs to call for an official investigation immediately," for his sake and Cordova's. The FBI tracked down the hacker of President Obama's Twitter feed in France, she says, and if Weiner doesn't ask for a similar hunt, the media should start digging.